The adult vascular system is composed of an arterial, a venous and a lymphatic compartment. These different compartments respectively provide oxygen and nutrients to peripheral organs, remove carbon dioxide and waste products and maintain an immune barrier to defend the host against foreign organisms. Malfunctions of the vascular system represent a major cause of mortality and disease in developed countries. Understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating vascular system development and maintenance is thus crucial for the design of therapies to cure vascular diseases. The molecules implicated in the control of physiological and pathological angiogenesis in the adult already function during embryonic development. Indeed, the survival of the embryo also critically depends on the establishment of a functional circulatory loop. Here we review our current knowledge about the emergence of endothelial precursor cells in the embryo, of their assembly into the primary vascular plexus and of the remodeling of this plexus into arteries and veins. We also focus on the molecular mechanisms controlling the development of arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels.